Germany prepares way for its troops to stay in Afghanistan

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel wearsa face mask as she arrives for the weeekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP, Pool)

BERLIN – The German government is preparing the way for the country's troops in Afghanistan — the second-biggest contingent in a NATO force — to stay in place until next year if needed.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet on Wednesday approved a new draft mandate that would enable German troops to stay until Jan. 31, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

German troop deployments overseas require parliamentary approval, which is typically granted on an annual basis. The current mandate for Afghanistan expires at the end of March.

NATO has just under 10,000 troops in the war-ravaged country, helping to train and advise Afghan security forces. Germany's contingent of nearly 1,100 is the second-biggest in the Resolute Support mission after the United States.

President Joe Biden is reviewing his predecessor’s 2020 deal with the Taliban, which includes a May 1 deadline for a final U.S. troop withdrawal. In Washington, calls are mounting for the United States to delay the final exit or renegotiate the deal to allow the presence of a smaller, intelligence-based American force.

Germany's foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has said the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan should be tied to progress in slow-moving peace negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban, rather than “slavishly” bound to the May 1 deadline.

Seibert said that the maximum level of 1,300 German troops is unchanged in the new mandate. He said its proposed expiry date “takes account appropriately of the complex situation in Afghanistan and also makes possible the flexibility necessary to be able to react if the volatile security and threat situation there changes.”

It also is designed to give Germany's newly elected parliament and government an early say in what happens going forward. Germans will elect a new parliament on Sept. 26, but it typically takes weeks or even a few months before a new coalition government is in place.